Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are referred to as the three energy-yielding nutrients because they provide your body with energy that is measured in calories. You’ll also learn about another substance that can provide your body with calories, even though it is not a nutrient.
Your life runs on energy. Electricity is the energy that runs your home. Gasoline is the energy that runs your car. So, what is the energy source that runs your body? Simply put, your body relies on calories from the foods you eat for the energy it needs to keep running. A calorie is a unit of heat used to denote the amount of energy in a food. In this lesson, we will learn about the nutrients in foods that provide calories, known as energy-yielding nutrients, namely, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. We will also reveal another substance that can provide calories even though it’s not a nutrient. Do you want to know what it is? Well, I’ll tell you, but you’ll have to wait till the end of the lesson to find out.
I mentioned that calories are units of energy. When you read a food label in a grocery store, you notice that calories are listed on the label. These calories are actually kilocalories. The prefix ‘kilo-‘ means 1,000, so we can define kilocalories as units of 1,000 calories. Having a list of thousands of calories on a food label would make for some pretty big numbers, so we spell the word calorie with a capital C to indicate that it is a kilocalorie. In other words, 1 Calorie = 1 kilocalorie = 1,000 calories.
Carbohydrates, fats and proteins all provide your body with calories, but fats are the king of calories. I say this because when you eat foods that contain fats, such as meats, dairy products, vegetable oils and avocados, these fats provide nine Calories/gram. This is a much higher yield than we get from the other nutrients, which we will discuss in just a moment. Fats, also referred to as lipids, can be stored in your body, so this high energy content makes fat a great source of stored energy that can be called on when you are involved in endurance activities. For example, if you run a marathon, fats become your body’s primary energy source for sustained energy.
Even though fats are the most energy-dense of the three energy-yielding nutrients, carbohydrates, which provide four Calories/gram are your body’s first choice for energy, especially immediate energy. This is because carbohydrates, which you obtain from foods like grains, fruits and vegetables, are easily converted to energy in your body. For example, if you’re a sprinter in a 100 yard dash, your body will call on glucose, which is a simple carbohydrate for the fast energy needed to power your muscles.
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